advice, Faye Arcand, Faye E. Arcand, manners, My Twisted Writer Brain…, Writers, writing

Do You Know How to do a Writing Critique?

We writers are a funny bunch. We’re introverts. Hermits.

Highly sensitive but also very opinionated, especially about other peoples work.

What we sometimes forget is that one negative comment made off the cuff could wound someone to a point of pulling away. And when I say pulling away, I mean wounded to the point of stopping.

It’s been my experience that most people don’t want to hear what’s wrong with their work so much as they want validation and strokes for how talented and wonderful they are. This is why a writer can crumble at the idea of rejection.

Now, that being said…if someone asks for a critique then it needs to be based on criteria that is about the written word and not an opinion or criticism of the theme, the writer, or the style of work.

There’s a fine line here and it can get blurred

Criticism–also known as judgment, opinion, or even a simple comment. OR A denunciation. Fault-finding. A blindside right up-side your head.

source: Brett “fish” Anderson

Here’s the thing, many say writers need to have a thick skin but that doesn’t mean they have to sit around and be attacked by a bunch of idiots who know not of what they speak.

Critique–is a disciplined and careful study of a work but can be presented as both positive and negative. It is viewed as helpful and not a judgement.

While a critique is still an opinion, it should be based on knowledge of the craft and could offer some assistance in moving forward.

If you’re in a writers critique group–you better be able to trust your people and make sure they know how to give a helpful critique otherwise someone will rip it apart and spit out the chewed remains of your ego and pride.

Rules need to be established before any critiques begin.

Hearing your own work critiqued can lead to a knee-jerk reaction filled with defensive indignation. Others obviously didn’t understand. You start to explain and try to bring them to a point of agreement, but it doesn’t happen. You view the person doing the critique as an idiot–unworthy of being in the same room with your genius and a total waste of your time.

It’s tough to sit under the spot light and have your soul examined. There are things to learn on both sides of the table.

If you’re critiquing and the subject author begins to get agitated, defensive, or flustered–stop immediately and pull back. It’s not worth pushing past a point of no return.

Let’s consider a few things about giving a critique–whether you’re giving it personally in a writing group or as a book review online.

Why are you doing a critique?

Are you looking to pump up your own self worth or is it to be helpful?

Seriously, some people come off as pompous asses who know everything about the world and yet never share their own stuff…hmmm, I wonder why.

If, and when, you’re invited to critique someone’s work whether online, in a writing group, or one-on-one, be cognizant of the fact that this is a privileged position. You’re not there to crush someone’s spirit you’re there to help them grow as a writer.

Always–Always–find something positive first.

Give the good news first so to speak. Talk about the voice, the description, the setting. You may mention how smooth the writing flowed or you could tell that this subject is close to their heart.

Keep notes as you listen (or read) and jot down the positive. Maybe a good description or a stand out phrase was used. Be genuine in your words or say nothing.

Concentrate of things like:

…is the voice appropriate. For example would a six year old use such large words or perhaps they sound babyish. How about the technology? Are teens passing notes? Is it realistic? Wouldn’t they be texting? Look for things like head-jumping POV, overuse of speech tags, adverbs, repeated words–pointing out these types of things can be useful.

Remember you’re critiquing the writing, not the person who wrote it.

It’s okay to ask questions like: why did you write this in first person? or Is there anything we should know to set the scene?

If you, for whatever reason, have a personal dislike for the person who wrote the work then it may be best to skip your critique or put those personal feelings aside and be professional–the choice is yours.

Whatever you do, don’t get petty–it’s not attractive.

This is the person’s work and a critique should assist in making it better and not have a part in making the writer want to jump off a cliff.

Do not start a critique with “You should do it this way….”

That is superimposing your judgment, style, and apparent expertise on their work. A critique is not about how you would write it.

Make sure you have something to back up your opinion. If you’re a novice writer with no credentials to your name then who are you to say that something sucks?

Watch how you say thingsMake sure your language is filtered.

Instead of saying…this is boring you may want to say that the scene needs more tension… or instead of saying that a writer is using the wrong word offer an alternative in a positive way.

Remember you’re making suggestions, not absolutes.

If you know the craft of writing then this shouldn’t be too difficult because you can use the terms of the trade.

Try and remain objective.

Critiquing another’s work can be difficult because we know what we’d do with it but it’s not ours to alter and improve.

Step back and try to detach yourself from the emotion of the critique (while still staying positive) and stay unbiased as you look at the structural and working parts of the work.

There is a rule of thumb to follow: If you have absolutely nothing good to say–keep your mouth shut.

8 thoughts on “Do You Know How to do a Writing Critique?”

  1. I always knew that about half of the suggestions would end up being useful and the other half not. Therefore any emotional response during negative feedback would be premature.

    1. You’re a rarity, I think. Most who I see or hear critiqued are not as prepared as you or know what to leave and what to take. It’s like someone talking about your baby where any negative feedback is not welcome. But with that said–you’re so correct in your approach….that emotional response would be premature and best to breathe through it and then determine usefulness. Thanks for commenting.

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